Comedian Ilana Glazer has etched out her last few years as one-half of the duo behind Broad City, the Brooklyn-set comedy that transcended YouTube and became one of Comedy Central’s flagship shows. The series looks to end after its fifth season, but Glazer has found a way to use her voice to help amplify those that normally have been drowned out by the politically-charged media.
Glazer speaks with The Drum on the Generator Collective, the issues-centered platform that she co-launched earlier this summer, as well as the media’s impact conversations around socio-political issues, and how brands can step in and make an impact without crossing into party lines.
The need to collect voices and humanize policy
Generator Collective began, like many a movement, with a conversation — in this case, one Glazer had with co-founders Ruby Anaya and Glennis Meagher on how divisive America had become.
“We talked a lot about life in the 90s,” she says. "My family was kind of more progressive politically, and where I grew up (on Long Island) it was really like, 'don't trust politics, leave it alone, let it be peaceful when you visit other kids' houses.'"
That mindset, one of politeness and having etiquette, remained a mystery to her, but now "has grown into such a standard narrative for so long that now we don’t even know how to talk to people on different sides, or even from the same one, or same faction within that side," she said.
Generator was built through this mindset, creating a platform where Americans can spend 90 seconds discussing the issues that matter to them the most. On the site, the team calls it an attempt to “humanize policy through storytelling” and hopes to foster a place where people can talk about what matters without a political barrier to entry that other social platforms have become.
Of the lack of discourse on these platforms, Glazer says: “It's hard to parse out if there is a moderate reality because we're so antagonized by our own government daily.”
Glazer said that the existing social media has only aggravated these issues. “Facebook has become this forum for politics that used to be cool for young people to use, but now old people use it to scream in all caps about politics.”
She doesn’t aim to knock the older generation, but it’s a point of frustration for her and other millennials. “They’re the ones who told us don’t talk about politics when we were kids, and now we’re of age and have to listen to all that.”
Glazer isn't holding Twitter exempt. “Twitter’s a hellscape too. It’s all these angry, aggro people at each other’s throats instead of having a discussion. At this point, It’s hard to tell if people are in there...At this point, it's like hard to tell if one way is right over another, or if there’s shades within."
Generating a movement through voices, not software
Glazer and team had initially looked to build an app to collect these stories and get people involved. “Our dream was software, like Snapchat, but for longer videos where you can record your personal story on a policy. Or where you would be able to filter between locations and different policies that are on the table.”
After a discussion with MIT Media Labs’ Daniel Minty, their app idea seemed to be a little more time-consuming than they’d hoped. “Software’s gonna make you lose your hair,” Glazer recalled him saying. “Just focus on a movement.”
That movement lives through a dedicated landing page where individuals can submit their 90-second videos, and have them populate on an Instagram page.
One thing Glazer notes in the initial wave of submissions: "We’ve had very diverse looking people, diverse age, race, neighborhood, jobs.”
Outside of the social presence, Team Generator enlisted the help of TBWA\Chiat\Day to help host a series of discussions with local politicians and activists to help get constituents to better understand and more willing to hit the polls for primaries and November’s midterm gubernatorial and congressional elections.
The guests for her first four sessions in Brooklyn included New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, Michael Skolnik, founder of social impact marketing agency Soze and intersectional climate activist Vic J. Barrett among a host of local politicians, pundits and writers.
Glazer admits, “I've never really been pointedly, regularly, politically active before the election. I'm embarrassed to say, but until it seems dire or something and I just haven't had a need for it baked into my upbringing, but I'm still informing myself.”
The fireside chats showcase this same vulnerability: Glazer, very much the voice of the audience, relied on the experts in the room to make sense of politics in New York City. Historically seen as a liberal city (and state), the public was informed of the conservative values and crooked structures in place that force climbing rents and a lack of awareness around issues such as climate change, women’s rights and police brutality.
Media’s role, and how brands can do right by citizens
The on and offline forum that Glazer and crew created through Generator look to add some substance to what continues to be a media cycle filled with stories on fake news,
“The media has made Donald Trump's presidency a reality,” she says. Adding more voices to this narrative, she hopes, can help bring solutions to life. “Our goal is to get as diverse array of information from people, their stories, and their narratives and look into their experiences because we're not fit into action in any way. We are really just trying to collect stories because when you see an individual's account, it starts with policy, but it's kind of like anything that turns into policy."
This goes for those affected by Daca (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), who have used the platform to shine a light on their ability to enter the country, but not leave without fear immigrations enforcement. But it also goes for those who voted in the current administration and support its policies.
“I want to hear what it feels like for Trump supporters,” she says. “Like what's being taken away from them, how they fear the country is changing. I do want to understand those beliefs and not turn them away. We're looking to understand a bunch of different stories and not just be an echo chamber of our own.”
Brands also have a say in this, she believes. Talking to TBWA about ways to push Generator further, tactics such as Boost Mobile using its California retail locations as actual polling booths were discussed. Other brands such as Doritos have pulled off stunts without getting political, such as their vending machine that dispensed blank cardboard ‘chips’ to college students who weren’t registered to vote.
“I think that brands really have the opportunity to step it up right now,” Glazer says. “Every time you spend money, you’re voting.”
The comedian and budding movement-builder has a potential solve for corporations. “By making something tangible, she says, “whether that’s access to a polling place for access to healthcare, and not doing it solely for the bottom line.
"Just infusing our cultures and banking on the bigger-picture relationships consumers have with brands is probably the least fudgy way that brands can become politically relevant.”